“The young man outside said your car won’t start.”

I’m sitting in the lobby of a local carwash. My car, as far as I know, is on good behavior as of late.

“Did he push in the clutch?”

A knowing look washes over the manager’s face.

We walk outside. He climbs in, pushes the clutch and a throaty rumble belches out of the exhaust.

“You know,” he says, “these have to be the best anti-theft devices. Young people don’t have a clue how to drive them.”

We both laugh knowing we are among the keepers of a lost art — those who know how to perform this mechanical task in a world managed by computers.

For most of us today, the manual transmission is a throwback in time. Our memories conjure up deep memories of the first time we found ourselves sitting behind the steering wheel, terrified how we could ever tame the bucking beast of metal under our control.

Ask anyone about their first experience learning to drive a manual transmission and stories will flow, flooded with passions generally reserved for first loves.

Three-on-the-trees, farm roads with grandpa, or the terror they felt when a red light stopped them on a hill, sure they’d roll into the car behind them.

I fell in love with a blue 1975 Datsun 280 Z parked alongside the road while in high school. Love at first sight. Beautiful, graceful lines, an engine that purred like a sewing machine, and strange stick poking up from between the two black seats. Sexy, exotic, and mysterious all presented in one stunning package.

She was everything I ever wanted but didn’t know I ever wanted. But she was also out of reach as if she spoke a foreign language. But I was not to let the communication barrier keep us apart.

Getting back into my hunkering V8 muscle car, I drove across town at 7 miles per gallon.

I begged a friend to teach me to speak the unknown language separating me from my new love.

“It’s easy,” he said, “let’s hop in my car and I’ll teach you.”

I remember that dark night, learning how to press and depress the clutch. Flat surfaces, hills, downshifting to break, we practiced for hours.

The next day, armed with my new language skills, I returned to the side of the road to court my new love. We married.

For the next 150,000 miles, we traveled long road trips across the country, camped on the beaches, took mountainous roads a bit too fast, and never looked back.

The day we parted was one of the most difficult days of my life. I remember standing in my driveway with a roll of cash wrapped in a rubber band in my hand and my love leaving with another man. A tear or two might or might not have been present.

But to this day, rarely do I fire up my car, depress the clutch, and not think of her.

Leonard Woolsey: 409-683-5207; leonard.woolsey@galvnews.com

(11) comments

David Schuler

Last year i paused to watch a young driver try to parallel park his car just down from the Tremont. After several failed attempts, an (older) good Samaritan arrived to complete the task, and the young man and his date headed for the hotel to attend a prom or party. I was more amazed by the total lack of embarrassment on the part of the male driver than by his inability to parallel park - a difficult task at times. It was as if his date considered parking skills to be in the same category as operating a steam locomotive or dialing long distance on a rotary phone.
Self-driving (and self-parking!) cars will save lives, yes, but will dramatically accelerate the ongoing decline in fundamental mechanical skills we have as a society. To quote a prediction from Zager and Evans, "Your legs got nothin' to do, some machine's doin' that for you". And it won't take 3,536 years to get there.

Bailey Jones

I grew up in a town without a single parallel parking space. It was the only thing I failed on my drivers test. I never had a need to know until I moved to Galveston.
Thank goodness for backup cameras.

Brian Maxwell

My truck will parallel park itself and also has this deal that makes it simple to back up a trailer. Both offend me and I refuse to use either. They make irrelevant skills my dad spent a lot of time teaching me.....and I my daughters.

David Schuler

I applaud you, sir!

Brian Maxwell

When I started to drive, my only option of our “family fleet” was a standard shift. From a 1967 Chevy Pickup, to a 1974 Toyota Corolla through my college vehicle a 1985 Toyota Pick-up, all were standard, each gaining a gear as I loved up! Lol. There is nothing more fun and more engaging than a manual transmission car.

All that being said, this is why autonomous vehicles offend me. Being a car nut, I love to drive. I love to experience it. I fear with today’s mind set that may be slipping away.

Jose' Boix

Brought back memories of learning to drive a late 1940 early 1950 Ford pick-up with I believe 4-speed transmission and having to double clutch to change gears! Then there was the 1965 VW Bug! We have it too easy now and even more with the upcoming autonomous cars...!

Miceal O'Laochdha

My first car was a "55 Chevy with a Powerglide automatic trans and 265 V8. My first move was to change out to a 4 speed manual and a 283 V8. I have preferred a stick most of my life with one significant exception: after 3 years spent driving a stick on the hills of San Francisco, I bought an automatic.

Rick Jacobi

A few months ago, we were in a standard transmission van with another, younger couple. The battery went dead. I suggested we push-start the car. The young couple and the driver, also less than 40 years old, gave me a blank stare. I looked at my wife, Vikki, and told her "get in the car and pop the clutch while I push it." She, who had learned to drive in the 60s, jumped in the car and knew exactly what to do.

Bill Cochrane

Most men over 50 have a “stick-shift” story. A few years out of Ball High I got a job at the newspaper, got married and a ’64 Maroon Corvette 427 convertible w/4-on-the-floor. Since I thought at the time that I liked my new bride I agreed to teach her how to drive “our” car. I found a nice place out at the airport, plenty of room, dry day, no people around to distract. She managed to shift once and for some unknown reason proceeded to find a 25 foot by 4 inch deep mud puddle. I’m not sure what happened to her, but I sure do miss that car.

Kelly Naschke

I have a manual Jeep...and a manual Corvette. My kids can’t drive either one. I like it like that!!

Jose' Boix

While working in the UK during the mid-late 1970s, if you could not drive a "manual" to pass the driving test your British driver's license was "restricted."

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